A heavily detailed and highly readable account of the author's lineage.
Seasoned journalist Whitaker reports the history of his parents' lives. Now managing editor of CNN Worldwide, the former NBC Washington bureau chief and former editor of Newsweek, the author decided, one year to the hour after his father's death, to write this book. The structure is largely chronological, beginning with his parents' meeting at Swarthmore in the mid ’50s, when his father, Syl, was one of the only black students and his white mother, Jeanne, taught French. Despite Syl's adultery, they were married for six years and had two sons, Mark and his younger brother, Paul, until Syl asked for a divorce. An estimable expert on Nigeria, Syl was asked to start Princeton's first African-American Studies program, though he was eventually fired because of his drinking. In and out of his sons' lives, often failing to pay child support, Syl weathered numerous trips to rehab, and his alcoholism derailed what might have been a stellar career. He never stayed at any college for too long, due in no small part to the problems that resulted from his womanizing. As a boy, Whitaker struggled to forgive his absences. His anger, manifested itself as compulsive eating, anorexia and long periods of being out of touch with his father. The author chronicles how he made peace with his father, despite his many failings, and how he built for a fulfilling marriage and career. It's difficult to follow the many names and threads, especially in the first half, but the writing comes across as honest and wholly engaging.
A fascinating personal treatise on racial identity and complicated father-son dynamics.